New Jersey's attorney general has suspended two state troopers without pay, one of them a 25-year veteran, following reports they served as escorts last month for a group of high-performance luxury cars on a 100-mph trip down the Garden State Parkway, alarming other motorists.
Suspended on Monday were Sgt. First Class Nadir Nassry and Trooper Joseph Ventrella. Nassry has been with the state police for 25 years and Ventrella for six years.
"We will not tolerate any conduct by a member of the State Police that puts the public in jeopardy, as this unauthorized caravan had the potential to do," Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said. "We are thoroughly investigating this incident, and those responsible will face serious discipline."
An attorney for one of the troopers, however, called the suspension of his client a public relations move made in the heat of a media spotlight.
The alleged incident occurred March 30. Witnesses who emailed the state Turnpike Authority to report the incident said they saw two state police cruisers escorting the speeding cars, one in front and one in back.
According to Turnpike Authority spokesman Tom Feeney, one witness said he saw flashing lights in his rear-view mirror and had to speed up to get over to the right and out of the way. Once there, he said, the cars "raced by" at speeds upward of 100 mph. Their license plates allegedly were taped over.
Another witness said he saw the cars weaving in and out of traffic at high speed.
When asked about the incident at an unrelated news conference, Gov. Chris Christie, at one time the state's top federal prosecutor, called it "a dumb thing to do" and said he was confident leaving the investigation in the hands of Chiesa and Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes.
"I hated it when politicians behind podiums would lecture law enforcement people about what to do in law enforcement," Christie said. "So far be it from me to be a hypocrite on this one. I trust the attorney general, he's a smart guy, and I trust Superintendent Fuentes."
Nassry's attorney, Charles Sciarra, said in a statement emailed Monday evening that his client had been scheduled for an interview about the incident earlier in the day but was suspended before the interview took place. He implied that the attorney general's office was swayed by news coverage that started with The Star-Ledger of Newark's first reporting the alleged incident on Sunday.
"We hope that the powers that be will take a breath, exhale and engage in a fair investigative process with which we will continue to cooperate," Sciarra said. "Either way, we will not permit Sgt. Nassry to be sacrificed to satisfy a public-relations agenda."
It was not immediately known if Ventrella had retained an attorney.
Sciarra added that the incident had been blown out of proportion and that charitable organizations "routinely ask and receive escorts from the State Police to and from the various charitable functions they attend with their exotic vehicles." It was not immediately clear whether the March 30 trip was connected to a charitable event.
The Star-Ledger, citing unnamed sources, reported that former New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs was among those driving the sports cars. Jacobs' agent, Justin Schulman, confirmed Monday that Jacobs drove to Atlantic City that day, but he wouldn't say whether he was part of the caravan.
Jacobs, who was released by the Giants last month and later signed with the San Francisco 49ers, is known to be a fan of high-performance cars. Rides Magazine featured him in its October edition, where he discussed a collection that includes a 700-horsepower Nissan GT-R and a Mercedes S63.
The newspaper also reported Monday that the attorney general's office said the commander of a state police substation had been transferred until more information about his involvement in the incident could be determined.
Associated Press Writer Samantha Henry contributed to this report.